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Make Yourself at Home with... Sheffield's Art Organisations

In the face of a year of cancelled events, Sheffield's artistic and cultural organisations are exploring new ways of working and innovating to survive Covid-19.

Sheffield without its arts and culture would be like a roast dinner without Yorkshire puddings. Our diverse creative community makes a vital contribution to the rich tapestry of the city, a contribution which must be preserved and nurtured, recognised and valued.

On the world stage Sheffield is well-known for its music, having been the childhood stomping ground for household names like Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys, but in reality our offer is far more dynamic. Across music, visual art, film, theatre, literature, design, video games and more, Sheffield boasts an incredible community of artists and arts organisations who fly the flag for the city locally, nationally and internationally.

Pre-pandemic, Sheffield’s events calendar was chock full of festivals of all kinds, including Tramlines, Doc/Fest, Off The Shelf and Migration Matters, along with a network of innovative promoters working across hundreds of small and medium-sized venues. And this is all before we consider Sheffield's significant role as an incubator of electronic music of every complexion since the 1980s.

The benefits of a healthy arts and culture sector are often expressed first and foremost with pound signs, with the ‘return on investment’ justifying the initial outlay. The city’s bars, restaurants, shops and hotels in particular do benefit – not to mention the sector’s contribution to meaningful and fulfilling employment – but we can’t fall into the trap of valuing the arts in simple economic terms.

As Professor Vanessa Toulmin from the University of Sheffield, which organises the annual Off The Shelf Festival of Words, rightfully notes: “The creative sector is very much the lifeblood of what makes a great community.”

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Andro & Eve

Ndrika Anyika

The arts reflect our society, nurture engagement in our neighborhoods, provide a platform for marginalised communities and offer a place where people are not seen merely as economic units. So often these are viewed as 'soft' outputs, but their importance cannot be overstated.

They are also outputs that need to be understood in the context of personal stories. Arts programmes provide essential skills to vulnerable people, like confidence building, literacy and working as part of a team. Nights out lead to lifelong friendships. Transformative artistic experiences can change the way we see the world forever.

Covid-19 has impacted every sector imaginable, but perhaps none more so than arts and culture because they fundamentally rely on the ability of people to congregate and connect on a physical level. But the sector is also highly adaptable, says Pete Gunson, Joint Artistic Director, Producer and Engineer at Pif Paf Theatre.

“We are used to reinventing what we do. We’ve always been on an arc of changing how we deliver our work. There is this common thing of going to audiences in their lives, as opposed to expecting them to come through a door to us.”

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Our city’s organisations have worked hard to host Covid-safe in-person events, which in many cases are also innovative by nature, but most have met this unprecedented challenge by transitioning to online-first or ‘blended’ models.

Great projects like the Sheffield Culture Hub bring together digital output from a number of organisations, including Music In The Round, whose festival Sheffield Chamber Music At Home reached tens of thousands of people this year, and theatre company Forced Entertainment's Table Top Shakespeare programme, which sees single actors perform all of the Bard’s plays from their own homes, using household items as characters and props. Of course digital can never fully compete with the experience of an in-person event, and it doesn’t provide the same social experience, but at the moment it’s the next best thing.

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On first glance the recent £1.57 billion ‘bail out’ for arts and culture is a colossal amount that other sectors will look on with green eyes. But while it will undoubtedly protect many of Sheffield’s larger institutions, like the Showroom Cinema, Sheffield Theatres and Yellow Arch, that money will only support successful applicants through the next six months. The funding criteria also ruled out a lot of smaller or newly-formed organisations like Dryad Works and Plot 22, who have since responded by running crowdfunders.

Crucially, we need to support the small organisations, artists, technical support crew and freelancers who are the bedrock of Sheffield’s cultural ecology. As Sheffield Doc/Fest Director Cíntia Gil advocates, “Public funding for the arts is absolutely key, because it is what allows people to survive in this situation and keep moving – and that helps keep society together.” It is also important that the sector does not argue only for its own survival, but steps up to its civic responsibility to advocate for all members of our society.

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As we emerge from this crisis, we need to understand how to rebuild our world in a new way. We need to think big and dig deep to understand the structural inequalities that led to the most vulnerable people in our society bearing the worst effects of this pandemic. We must seek out upstream solutions to the problems we're experiencing in our own homes, and without a doubt we will need arts, culture and wider civic society to create a platform where this new world can be called into being.

Learn more

Make Yourself At Home is a collaborative campaign, which means groups, companies and organisations in Sheffield are encouraged to use its assets and messaging as part of a collective recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Reopening High Streets Safely (RHSS) project is receiving up to £500,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

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